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(March 2005)

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Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots.

— Stéphane Mallarmé


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Monday, November 17th, 2008

Modern Times

Janis lent me a copy of Dylan's recent disk, Modern Times. The first thing that hits me listening to it is what a huge range of variation there is in Dylan's work. I mean listening to this you recognize instantly who is the author -- his voice and his personality are unmistakable -- but it's a brand-new sound, not quite like anything he's done in the last 40+ years. (That I can think of anyway. I don't have an encyclopædic familiarity with his work, but I do know a lot of it. The closest thing to this that I can think of, is Basement Tapes; but that's not at all a perfect match.)

It's a groovy sound, too, different though it is from any of the Dylans I know and love. It's going to take a bunch more listening to really get to know the songs -- on first listen it seems like the real highlights of the record are "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "The Levee's Gonna Break"; the only song I really didn't like was "Workingman's Blues #2" -- it seemed plodding and lifeless. A couple of the other songs were not perfect lyrically -- the quality of inspiration that you feel in Dylan's best work was not always present -- but the instrumental power carried them. I'm looking forward to keeping this on my car stereo for the next while and listening to it every day until I really get to know the songs. Also interested in finding out more about the source tunes these are based on; the only one I really know is Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

posted evening of November 17th, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Notes toward a review of Modern Times

I've been listening to Dylan's Modern Times a lot over the last couple of days, and having some reactions that seem like I could put them together into an article or essay. For now I'll just list some of what I'm thinking about, off the top of my head.

  • I like the record. It's nowhere near Dylan's best stuff; but it's a pleasure to listen to and to move with.
  • One of the things I really love in Dylan's music is the way he creates a persona in his songs. I think here his focus wavers and sometimes the lyrics will not ring true, not go with the persona. One thing that occurred to me is that maybe here Dylan is not singing in a character, just being himself.
  • The songs are long and do not always hold my attention. That's not necessarily bad -- when my attention wanders the song is happening in the background, then I come back and slip back into the song.
  • The songs fall roughly into three groups, two that I like and one not: (A) "Spirit on the Water", "When the Deal Goes Down", "Ain't Talkin", and "Beyond the Horizon"; (B) "Thunder on the Mountain", "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Someday Baby", "The Levee's Gonna Break"; (C) "Workingman's Blues #2" (which I'm maybe just putting in a group by itself so I can not like it.) "Nettie Moore" I'm reserving judgement on. Group (A) is more melodic, Group (B) is hard rocking, driving beat, often with a blues structure. (B) is generally more exciting; I really love "Beyond the Horizon" though, it might be the most moving song on the record.
  • I really like hearing Dylan with a band behind him, and it's especially nice to hear the violin and cello. The band's sound might have been what prompted me to compare it to Basement Tapes, I think the comparison was mostly spurious.

posted evening of November 20th, 2008: Respond

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Red Sails in the Sunset

So Wikipædia's page about Modern Times asserts that "Beyond the Horizon" is based on "Red Sails in the Sunset" by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams. I don't know the song so I looked around and found several versions of it on YouTube -- Tab Hunter, The Platters, The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino. And more! (No idea really, but I'm assuming the Cole version is the standard.) And... huh. It's a kind of pretty song, and I guess I can see where the idea comes from that "Beyond the Horizon" takes this as its source material -- similarities in structure and topic are not hard to see. But it's not moving me to anything like the degree to which I was moved by the Dylan song. Look at this! YouTube user teclo64 created a video for "Beyond the Horizon" using Chaplin footage from The Gold Rush and Modern Times:

posted evening of November 23rd, 2008: 3 responses

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